Country profile: United States of America
Country profile: United States of America
The US is the world’s foremost economic and military power. It is also a major source of entertainment: American TV, Hollywood films, jazz, blues, rock and rap music are primary ingredients in global popular culture.
Ethnic and racial diversity – the “melting pot” – is celebrated as a core element of the American ideology. The 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed racial and other discrimination, but race continues to be a live issue with affirmative-action programmes – intended to remedy past discrimination – and housing segregation sparking debate.
The US originated in a revolution which separated it from the British Crown. The constitution, drafted in 1787, established a federal system with a division of powers even at the central level which, uniquely among modern nation-states, has remained unchanged in form since its inception.
The original people of north America, who made up several distinct groups of native Americans, went into decline with the arrival of settlers and now constitute a minority of the population.
The early settlers came predominantly from the British Isles. Slaves from Africa joined them involuntarily in a second wave. Millions of Europeans constituted a third stage of immigration.
Today, Asians from the Pacific rim and Hispanics from the Americas are seeking what their predecessors wanted – political freedom and prosperity. This shift is reflected in America’s interests abroad, which are now less European in focus than ever before.
American foreign policy has often mixed the idealism of its “mission” with elements of self-interest. The latter is exemplified in its international record on the environment, which has attracted criticism, and the need to maintain energy supplies, in which the US is not self-sufficient.
In September 2001 the US was shaken after three hijacked aircraft were deliberately crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and the Defence Department – the Pentagon – near Washington DC, killing thousands of people. A fourth hijacked aircraft crashed in Pennsylvania, killing all on board.
The attacks had a momentous impact as the country continued to re-define its role as the world’s only superpower. In October 2001 the US led a military campaign in Afghanistan which unseated the Taleban regime. In March 2003 Washington initiated military action in Iraq which led to the toppling of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Despite relative prosperity in recent years, the gap between rich and poor is a major challenge. More than 30 million Americans live below the official poverty line, with a disproportionate percentage of these being African-Americans and Hispanics.
President: George W Bush
George W Bush, a Republican, won a second term in the 2 November 2004 presidential elections. His main challenger in the bitterly-fought contest, the Democratic Party candidate John Kerry, admitted defeat after a tight race.
National security and the war in Iraq took centre stage in the campaign, one of the most expensive ever staged.
Having previously favoured decreased US involvement in world hotspots, Mr Bush declared a “war on terror” following the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. The US took the pre-eminent role in the ensuing military campaign against the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.
As a doctrine of pre-emptive intervention took shape, Mr Bush turned to Iraq, accusing Baghdad of harbouring weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The subsequent US-led invasion toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein.
But the search for WMD – a prime justification for the invasion – proved fruitless. Ongoing violence in Iraq and mounting casualties have also challenged Mr Bush’s standing on the issue.
In January 2008 Mr Bush embarked upon a marathon tour of the Middle East. He repeatedly said he believed a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians can be reached by the end of the year, and said he wanted a peace deal signed by the time he leaves office in January 2009.
At home, the president has signed tax cut bills and has overseen a strongly-performing economy. But large budget and trade deficits continue to cause concern. US public confidence in the president took a hammering in 2005 over perceived shortcomings in the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina.
Correspondents say the tide may have turned against Mr Bush in the US mid-term elections in November 2006 when the Democrats became the majority party in the Senate and House of Representatives. They say the Democrat gains reflect voter discontent with the war in Iraq and the Bush administration.
Mr Bush began his first term in office in January 2001 after a controversial and bitterly-fought contest against the incumbent vice-president, Al Gore of the Democrats.
The final result hinged on the extremely close count in the state of Florida. Recounts and legal challenges right up to the Supreme Court meant that Mr Gore conceded to Mr Bush only in mid-December, several weeks after the votes were cast.
Born in the New England state of Connecticut in 1946, Mr Bush is the son of former president George Bush. He worked in the energy business and helped to run a baseball franchise before being elected as governor of Texas in 1994.
Mr Bush turned to evangelical Christianity in his earlier years, and has said his faith helped him to overcome a drink problem. He has likened America’s international role, post 11 September, to a battle against forces of evil.
Mr Bush is an opponent of abortion and a supporter of the death penalty. He has described himself as a “compassionate conservative”.
George W Bush is married and has two daughters.
The US has the most highly-developed mass media in the world. American-made dramas, comedies, soap operas, animations, music videos and films have a global audience and are part of the staple fare of broadcasters worldwide.
Television is America’s most popular medium. Three networks – ABC, CBS and NBC – dominated the scene for decades until the mass take-up of cable and satellite and the arrival of the Fox network. Mainstream American TV is slick, fast-moving and awash with advertising. Audience ratings and advertising revenues spell life or death for shows; networks may axe lame ducks after just one season.
There are around 10,000 commercial radio stations in the US. In urban areas there are stations to satisfy almost every musical taste, language preference and world-view. News, sports and talk stations predominate on the mediumwave (AM) dial, with music on the FM band. Satellite-delivered subscription radio offers hundreds of channels and has attracted millions of customers.
Freedom of expression in the US is guaranteed by the constitution, and some stations give airtime to extreme hues of political – often right-wing – and religious thinking. Elsewhere, outspoken radio “shock jocks” push at the boundaries of taste.
American public broadcasting is partly government-funded, but also supported by private grants. Many universities and colleges operate broadcasting outlets. National Public Radio – with more than 600 member stations – offers a more highbrow mix of news, debate and music without advertising. Public TV services operated by PBS have a mission to provide “quality” and educational programming.
The government sponsors TV and radio stations aimed at audiences outside the US. Lately, radio services for audiences in the former Soviet bloc have been cut back, while stations targeting audiences in the Middle East and Asia have been launched.
There are more than 1,500 daily newspapers in the US, most of them with a local or regional readership. Circulations are in decline as readers turn to the web and TV news networks.
The US is the home of the internet. By late 2007 just over 71.4% of Americans were estimated to be online (InternetWorldStats.com).
The country is making the switch to digital broadcasting; analogue TV transmissions will be switched off in early 2009.